The bad news about the Orioles starting rotation this year is that it was among the worst in baseball with a collective 4.72 ERA. Worse news is that every single one of the starting pitchers who contributed to that number could be back next year.
Any way that you want to break it out, the numbers are ugly and the prospect for next season looks grim. For instance, of the eight starters who started at least ten games for the team, five of them had an ERA over 5.00. That accounts for 84 starts made this year, a bit more than half of the season started by pitchers who were seldom competitive.
Not surprisingly for a team whose starters struggled so much, the Orioles rotation also threw among the fewest innings of all American League staffs. Their 886 innings pitched ranked 12th of 15 AL teams. They would have needed to throw 30-35 more innings to be merely average. Those extra innings were chewed up by pitchers like Odrisamer Despaigne and T.J. McFarland, who were even worse than the starters.
Worse still is that of those 5+ ERA pitchers, three of them are on the payroll for a combined $33 million for next season. There won’t be many good starting pitching options in free agency this offseason, and even if there were, the Orioles would likely not be able to afford them due to carrying dead weight.
That’s the bad news. Well, some of it. There is also good news. The Orioles made the playoffs this year even despite this horrible rotation. It’s both uplifting and frustrating that the O’s could have possibly won the AL East with an average rotation.
Safe to say that there’s plenty of room for improvement. Are they going to be able to coax that improvement out of the same bunch of people? The new pitching coach, whoever he is, will have some work to do. But there is a decent reason to believe the Orioles could have at least 60% of a good starting rotation. Not a bad starting point for improvement.
Pitchers who may actually be good
After a disappointing 2015 season where Tillman was in the category of those near-5 ERA strugglers, he looked more like the better version of himself from 2012-14 this season.
Tillman was pitching well enough and getting lucky enough that “Can Chris Tillman win 20 games?” was a thing that didn’t seem outlandish to discuss, at least until late July. Shortly after that, Tillman went on the disabled list with right shoulder bursitis, and even after returning from that DL stay, he didn’t look like his best self, including in the AL Wild Card game.
O’s fans can only hope that sort of injury is precisely the thing you need an offseason to clear up, and that it won’t come back next year. And this part was supposed to be the good news!
In the second half of the season, coincidentally (probably) arriving along with his decision to turn into Evil Goatee Gausman, the Orioles finally saw something of the pitcher they were hoping they were getting with the #4 pick in 2012.
From the beginning of August to the season’s end, Gausman posted a 2.83 ERA in 12 starts, holding batters to a .685 OPS. Gausman pitched at least six innings in 11 of those 12 starts and he went seven or more innings in four of them.
Is that the real Gausman? If that guy shows up to spring training and sticks around all of next year, that’s one spot locked down.
The enigma, Dylan Bundy
Believing that the Orioles could have 60% of a good starting rotation requires a lot of faith in Bundy being an answer to the O’s problems. That’s asking a lot for a guy who just put up a 4.52 ERA in his 14 starts and only went six or more innings in three of those starts.
Are the Orioles even going to open the season with Bundy in the rotation? It seems like too much to believe he can make 30+ starts next season when he only threw 109.2 innings this year. And even if he’s healthy, he’ll be having to keep learning on the job since injuries and then his contract kept him from ever getting much seasoning in the minor leagues.
Pitchers who were not good
Jimenez, from April to July, was a big part of why the O’s rotation had such terrible numbers this year. Yet it’s also the case that without the seven fantastic starts that Jimenez made from August 25 on the Orioles wouldn’t have made it into the playoffs. That includes his Sept. 5 complete game, the first by an O’s pitcher in two years.
What do you even do with a mercurial guy like that? Throw him in next year’s rotation and hope for the best, probably.
Even if you weren’t excited about the Gallardo signing due to his declining velocity and strikeout numbers - trends that were apparent even before the Dreaded Orioles Physical reared its ugly head and scuppered the initial contract Gallardo negotiated with the O’s - you probably weren’t expecting something this bad.
Gallardo was basically Jimenez without the upside. He never had a good month. He pitched at least six innings in only 10 of his 23 starts. His walk rate was Kevin Gregg-like and probably for the same reason: He didn’t want batters to actually hit the ball because nothing good happened when they did.
You don’t get much worse than the initial starts made by Miley as an Oriole. The trade of the seemingly-inconsequential Ariel Miranda - also a lefty - for Miley became even more frustrating when Miranda went on to start ten games for the Mariners with a 3.54 ERA. Meanwhile, Miley ended the season with a 6.17 ERA in 11 O’s starts. Yuck.
On one hand, when you trade for a guy with a 5 ERA, you can’t be surprised when you get a bad pitcher. But, based on Miley’s 2015 performance with the Red Sox - 32 starts, 193.2 innings, 4.46 ERA - the Orioles had a good reason to believe Miley was better than that 5 ERA and could be at least average.
They’re going to get another season to find out whether he can be average since he’s signed for about $9 million for 2017. The trade could still work out. If Miley is OK (he really only has to be in the mid-4s,) and his presence means the O’s don’t feel the need to flush away another draft pick for the next Gallardo-tier pitcher on the free agent market, that’s a win for the club.
Even using the term “depth” implies some kind of presence of pitchers who can, if needed due to injury or ineffectiveness, come up to the major league level and take care of business. The 2016 season has showed that pitchers like Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson don’t count as depth. They’re more like sacrificial lambs offered up fearfully to capricious and indifferent gods.
It’s a grim picture if anyone from this group needs to be called upon for 2017, and it’s even more grim looking beyond next season, after which time Tillman, Jimenez, Gallardo, and even Miley all figure to be free agents. The only decent starter at Triple-A Norfolk was Joe Gunkel, while Double-A Bowie had no good or even decent starters.
As everyone who’s seen The Wire knows, the gods will not save you in Baltimore - and neither, it seems, will the farm.